ECONET Wireless is undertaking a multi-million-dollar expansion of its mobile money service, EcoCash, which will make the system four times bigger. This will pave the way for the company to launch additional services. In a statement, Econet said the expansion was a response to the dramatic and unexpected growth of the service since its launch.
The EcoCash service has recorded more than 2,3 million users since its inception two years ago and by August last year, its agency network, which includes individual traders, post offices and other businesses, had reached 7 000 agents.
As of July this year, EcoCash was handling an estimated US$200 million in monthly transactions and when annualised, this volume represents an amount equivalent to 22 percent of Zimbabwe's GDP.
Expansion of the service would mean the country's largest mobile phone network would be able to rake in the forecast US$1 billion a month.
Econet customers, who were originally using the platform to send and receive money, can now use EcoCash to make all sorts of payments, including paying salaries.
This has created employment opportunities while the platform has been touted as facilitating the movement of cash across the economy efficiently boosting trade in the country's mostly informal economy.
Econet has been forging alliances with local banks such as CBZ, Steward Bank and Stanbic Bank to support the facility. The acquisition of a 100 percent stake in Steward Bank by the mobile giant also saw the giant further integrate the large informal sector into the formal banking system.
Econet said that engineers from the company's suppliers have been in the country for several weeks upgrading all the systems and they are expected to have completed their work by the end of September.
"Our executives concede that they have been caught by surprise by the dramatic growth of EcoCash, and have had to scramble to order and install a much bigger system," the company said.
Econet Services chief executive Mr Darlington Mandivenga said the expansion of EcoCash would allow the company to launch new services on the EcoCash platform.
He added that the company had already activated the EcoCash service for Zimbabweans in South Africa that would see an increase in the volume of remittances to the country.
He, however, said the service was currently available from a few limited sites in that country until the full upgrade in Zimbabwe was complete.
"If we open up the service completely, we will have complete congestion. We have to wait two or three weeks," he said.
Mr Mandivenga said excitement over the product in South Africa was very high because it solved the problems people were experiencing when sending money home.
Statistics show that Zimbabwe accounts for the bulk of the cross-border remittances market, and more than R6,7 billion, which translates to 60 percent of total Sadc remittances, is estimated to be sent to Zimbabwe from South Africa each year.
Analysts believe that EcoCash could surpass the achievements of the largest mobile money service, M-Pesa, run by Kenya's Safaricom.